We are many things as a family. Adventurous (we all love the outdoors), fairly hungry (we all love grills in said outdoors, and maybe a tasty beverage while you’re at it), fond of belting out the Frozen soundtrack in the car. We are also opportunistic. When we heard that Tim’s cousin was christening her lovely little daughter in The Netherlands, we figured it was the perfect opportunity to meet up with family, see a part of the world we’d not yet been to, and have fourteen uninterrupted hours to Let It Go.
We left Switzerland last Thursday, and stopped for a night in Cologne. I had been to the city, sort of by accident, many years previously. A friend and I were travelling around Germany by train, and had no intention whatsoever of visiting ‘Köln’, despite seeing references to it everywhere. We arrived at our intended destination, which I have long forgotten, and went to get a coffee (or let’s face it, probably a beer) and work out our action plan (it was the days before readily available internet, which dates me something shocking). As we were walking there, my friend dropped to the ground, and started hitting it furiously while shrieking ‘noooooo!’. Initially assuming the cafe was out of beer, it became apparent that he’d left one of his bags on the train: the one holding his passport, wallet, tickets and minidisk player (gah, again with the aged references). We trotted back to the station, knowing that there was no chance of getting them back but wanting to work out the next steps. After half an hour of muddled English-German explanations, a diagram of the train to show where we were sitting, and much head-clutching we were advised that the bag and all its contents were safe and en route to Köln (I recall an unemotional German rail employee saying ‘hurrah’ with either complete lack of feeling or complete mastery of sarcasm). To get them back, we promptly changed our plans and made our way there too. As we disembarked at the Cologne main station, bag and minidisk player happily returned to their owner, the sun shone through the massive cathedral in the centre of town and we were greeted by the brassy tones of the annual marching band competition. Cologne, it turned out, was awesome.
This trip was much less dramatic: a night in the centre of town, dinner (it’s asparagus season, so we all feasted on sweet, juicy white asparagus) (much to Tim’s chagrin; he was more interested in the fried potatoes) and tiny kölsch beers, which even this beer-hater liked (not that I had a choice – the waiter at the brewhouse where we had dinner refused my request for wine and insisted I drink the local ale). The following day Tim worked while the kids and I explored the town and the local chocolate museum. After letting the kids (and myself) indulge in way more samples than is wise pre-road trip, we left Cologne. As we crossed the border from Germany to The Netherlands, a few things became quickly apparent. We were driving underneath sea level, it was unbelievable flat, and for some reason their fields were multicoloured.
We were (very generously) staying with extended family of Tim’s cousin (she married a guy from Friesland, a province in the northern part of The Netherlands). We stayed in a little town called Rosterhaule, which was 600 people strong, one of many charming little towns dotted across the province. We were welcomed into the Dutch fold: our hosts welcomed us for meals, gave us lots of information about the area, and took us on a marvellous day of Friesland tourism.
The first stop was the Wouda Steam Pumping Station, which is the largest steam pumping station ever built. Intended to prevent the flooding of the reclaimed land, which makes up 60% of the Netherlands, it is a marvel of hydraulic engineering.
It is also an excellent place to play chaseys and hide-and-seek.
We were taken on a tour which explained how the station operated, as well as giving some history on the surrounding lands. We were shown the intersection of the sea (salt water) and the canals (cutely called sweet water) as well as the astounding network of dykes in place to keep the water from the land. Our host, Harry, said that when he was growing up his parents had a magnet on their refrigerator that read: ‘God created the earth, but The Netherlands created The Netherlands.’ Looking out over the expanse of land that should have been sea, one could see their point.
The pump house itself was a well preserved – and at times, still operational – marvel.
Our hosts were the kind of people that, following a trip to the pump house and just before a visit to the tulips, give you hot coffee and local almond cake piled high with whipped cream. They were also the kind of people who encourage your three year old to take another piece when she’s looking longingly at the cake box, and laugh when your one year old schmears cream all over everything. That is to say, the very best kind of people.
It will come as no surprise that the rainy drive through the tulip fields was a hit with this flower loving family. There’s a signposted tulip route which we drove, convoy style, stopping with a break in the weather to enjoy coloured patch after rainbow coloured patch.
Despite their perfect looks, we played spot-the-odd-tulip-out as we wandered the manicured fields.
And made jokes about tip-toeing (or in this case, joyfully stomping) through the tulips.
The following day was little Freyja’s christening, held in the stained-glass-windowed church in which her Dutch grandparents had been married. Adelaide, fascinated by the tiny baby, watched from the front row as her head was wet while little Teddy preferred using the prayer pews at the back as a makeshift playground. We all went to a nearby park, edged by the forest, for a picnic where we caught up with family, made new friends, and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. It was the sort of event that Tim and I both remember from our childhoods (although admittedly neither of our family get-togethers were flanked by so many flowers) but this time our role had changed slightly: it was our kids running around, eating too much salami, and wailing when they were told it was time to leave, only to conk out in the car in an exhausted and sticky haze.
We left later that night, stopping again in Cologne on the way home, in order to get back to Switzerland for Tim to work on Monday. Despite all the driving – and operatic Frozen singing – it was a lovely slow weekend, spent doing our favourite things with people we love (I mean, look at our girl’s grin with her Auntie Dommie. Ridiculous.)